Hell On Wheels

The Duke City Derby Rolls Into Town

Neelam Mehta
6 min read
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Finally, the Midnight Rodeo is home to more than just cheap drinks and tipsy rancheros itchin’ to break in their new Wranglers. As of October, the club opened its doors—and floors—to Duke City Derby (DCD), Albuquerque’s first and only all-girl roller derby league.

That’s right, Albuquerque has a roller derby league, complete with all the body-checking, skate-tripping and sailor-cursing anyone could possibly want from a game.This begs but one question: What the hell is roller derby, anyway? Actually, it depends on who you talk to.

“It’s really … cool,” said Nan Morningstar, founder of DCD.

Some elaboration, please?

“It’s advertised as basically an all-out brawl,” said Team Captain Michela Dai Zovi.

OK, we’re getting closer to a real explanation.

“It’s a mixture of entertainment and actual sports,” said founding member Sheena Whitaker. “This is not just a race, it’s a full-contact race.”


In case anyone remembers, classic derby surged in the late '50s as a comical and staged kind of WWF-on-skates, where two teams would race around a track to score points by passing as many other skaters as possible while staging dramatic fights and dirty plays solely for the sake of entertainment. Such televised events led to quick public popularity, and the sport hung around for a number of years, only to wane out in the early '70s. It enjoyed brief comebacks in the late '70s, '80s and '90s, but never caught on as it had in its glory days.

Then, in 2001, a group of women in Austin wanted to start a revival, with more emphasis on competition and less on theatrics. They recruited skaters, formed a league and currently operate under the name Lonestar Rollergirls. Since then, they've formed five teams, and today draw upward of 1,300 spectators at every event. Other leagues soon followed, popping up everywhere from Philadelphia to Detroit to Seattle, and now, Albuquerque.

DCD found its meager beginnings last November when Morningstar stumbled upon another league’s website. It looked like a good idea, she said, and could only give one answer as to why.

“That’s the question I shouldn’t answer with, ‘I really like yelling and hitting stuff,’” she said, although that also would have done nicely. “It’s a lot of fun to play hard, hit hard and get hit hard, and then go get beers afterwards—to beat each other up and still be friends.”

The skaters also want to make something perfectly clear.

“We do not endorse choreographed or planned game antics,” said derby Referee Jennifer Holland, adding that while fights will incur a minor penalty, some things are not tolerated. “If someone kicks someone in the face with a skate, I get to kick them out. There’s illegal and then there’s … wrong. I want a dunce hat for girls who have to sit out.”

“I don’t want to see staged fights,” Whitaker concurred. “It all has to do with our legitimacy.”

Real fights make for the best injuries, anyhow.

“We’ve had three sprained knees and a broken ankle,” Morningstar said. “Those are the only major ones—but everyone always has cuts and bruises. The most common injuries in roller derby are broken ankles and dislocated shoulders. We make it a point to take injury pictures; it’s all very exciting.”

The league has two teams so far—one prison themed, one hot-rod themed—and for an Oct. 8 practice bout, each entered the Midnight Rodeo dressed the part. Big House Brawlers wore short skirts and tight tops covered in black-and-white stripes while Dead Man’s Curves had on little blue dresses with checkers down the side. Each player made her own uniform.

Some curious employees lingering around the Midnight Rodeo raised an eyebrow at this spectacle of skaters. With Morningstar’s (a.k.a. Molotov Cocktease's) green hair, Whitaker’s pink hair and Dai Zovi’s punky red hair, they alone looked like a bag of Skittles; not to mention the rest of the skaters’ spiked belts, chains, fishnets and piercings.

“I think roller derby is more of a spectacle than a lot of sports,” Dai Zovi said. “For that, it’s probably never going to be respected like a lot of sports.”

It is up for debate whether derby falls within the realm of an actual sport, but if the numerous bottles of Gatorade standing all over the bar during the bout were any indication, there’s no question about it.

“There’s a lot of entertainment value,” Whitaker said. “We have the costumes and the music, but it is a sport. It takes time and diligent practice. It’s not like, ‘Hey let’s take a hot punk chick and put her on skates and throw some music behind her.’ You can see people who have worked really hard at what they’re doing, but there’s also a fun lightheartedness to it. ”

After the bout begins, complete with play-by-play commentary by Jocelyn Jackson (a.k.a. Hoochie Minh), the sweat dripping from under the skaters’ helmets speaks for itself—these ladies play just as hard and just as rough as any football player, except with more speed and less padding.

Seven players are on each team and one of them is designated as the Jammer, or the point-scorer for her team. How many points she scores is determined by how many other skaters she passes as she dodges shoulders, legs, arms and sometimes entire bodies aimed at taking her out. It can get ugly.

“Titty-twisters are illegal!” Jackson shouted into her microphone as the bout got heated. “Sheena Slaughter, shame on you!”

There’ll be a lot more where that came from on Oct. 22, when Duke City Derby debuts their exhibition match. The bout will comprise three 20-minute periods and a 20-minute intermission, during which local rockabilly band The Roustabouts will perform.

Morningstar said because there were so many bumps on the track to finally starting up the derby in Albuquerque, finally seeing this exhibition take shape is extremely gratifying.

“We’ve almost been at this a whole year now,” she said. “At first, we had nowhere to play games or have good practice time. The owners of Midnight Rodeo are extremely cooperative and friendly, and hopefully we can make that our home. And actually being able to play roller derby in a bar is a fantastic gimmick.”

The last, and perhaps most important, thing DCD needs now is simply more skaters.

“We need more girls,” Morningstar said. “All the hard stuff has already fallen into place—we found a place to play, we figured out how to play, we got the league started—now all we need is recruitment. The first step is to come out to our new skater practices which are every Sunday at Roller King at 6 p.m. Oh, and you must be a girl, and you must be at least 18.”

To get in on the Roller Derby experience, check out DCD’s exhibition match at the Midnight Rodeo on Oct. 22. Doors open at 3 p.m., and the game starts at 4 p.m. Tickets are available for $5 at Free Radicals or at the door. Kids 12-and-under get in free.

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